The West’s best college basketball teams are fully represented in the 2013 NCAA Tournament that begins Tuesday night.
There are 15 West teams in the 68-team field, grabbing seeds ranging from No. 1 – Gonzaga (31-2) – to the No. 15 seed – Pacific (22-12), which was not included in many pre-tournament brackets.
The Mountain West Conference, by far the strongest in the West, has five entries, No. 3 seed New Mexico (29-5), No. 8 Colorado State (25-8), No. 5 UNLV (25-9), No. 7 San Diego State (22-10) and No. 13 Boise State (21-10), which will play a play-in game.
Surprisingly, the Pac-12, which did not have a solid overall season, had five teams reach the tournament. They are No. 6 seeds Arizona (25-7) and UCLA (25-9), No. 10 Colorado (21-11), and No. 12 seeds California (20-11) and Oregon (26-8), which won the conference tournament but got a lowly 12th seed for its effort.
The West Coast Conference has two in the field, Gonzaga and No. 11 seed St. Mary’s (27-6), which plays a play-in game Tuesday against Middle Tennessee.
The Big Sky has one, 13-seed Montana (25-6), and Big West has one, Pacific, and the Western Athletic Conference has one, 13-seed New Mexico State (24-10), one because it has to have at least one representative.
Gonzaga, in the Tournament for the 15th straight year but has never advanced beyond the Sweet 16, has perhaps the most favorable bracket, in the West. No. 2 seed Ohio State is the primary power team from the East in the bracket. They wouldn’t meet until the Elite Eight.
Here is a capsule look at the 15 West’s Best teams and how they might do:
West’s No. 1 seed Gonzaga (31-2): This team has the best record in school history but will it be the most successful? The Zags, who has had a run of tough brackets over the years, has a much softer horizon. They will be tested early by the big bodies of Pittsburgh and Wisconsin but they have no excuses. The Zags, third in the nation in field-goal percentage, should shoot to the Elite Eight where Ohio State or New Mexico likely will await. Prediction: Elite Eight.
West’s No. 3 seed New Mexico (29-5): With an RPI of 2, the Lobos came through a rugged schedule in the Mountain West Conference. They are battle tested. Behind guard Tony Snell, they’ve won nine of their last 10 games, the regular-season title and conference title. They need to take care of an inconsistent Arizona team then likely Ohio State to face No. 1 seed Gonzaga. Prediction: Sweet 16
West’s No. 6 seed Arizona (25-7): The Wildcats, the league’s preseason favorite, never put things together this season. They went 12-6 in the Pac-12 and were 5-5 over their final 10 games. Their likely third-round game against New Mexico – in Salt Lake City – should be a momentum-builder for the winner. Prediction: Round of 32.
West No. 13 seed Boise State (21-10): The Broncos have a little extra work to do before they feel part of the Tournament field. Like St. Mary’s, Boise must play a play-in game in Dayton on Wednesday against LaSalle (21-9). The winner then advances to play a tough Kansas State team, the No. 4 seed in the West. Both Boise and LaSalle stumbled down the stretch but both also played in a highly competitive conference this season. They will be ready. Prediction: Opening loss.
East’s No. 5 seed UNLV (25-9): Led by guard Anthony Marshall, who has helped the Rebels become the ninth best team in the country in assists, plays a team they might be more familiar with, ‘neighboring’ California, in the first round. Then, if they win, they get powerful No. 4 seed Syracuse. It’s a tough go but they come from a conference (MWC) that battles every week. Prediction: Round of 32.
East’s No. 10 seed Colorado (21-11): With losses in three of their last five games, this selection to the Tournament field was an unexpected bonus. The Buffaloes have knocked off Oregon twice and Arizona but their quality may be more reflected in their 90-54 loss to Kansas. If the Buffs can get past their opening opponent, Illinois, they might not get much further as they’ll likely play No. 2 seed Miami. Prediction: Opening loss.
East No. 12 seed California (20-11): The Bears had been on a nice second half run, winning seven in a row, until a two-game losing skid ended their scheduled season. They were one-and-out in the Pac-12 tournament and may be the same in the NCAAs. Prediction: Opening loss.
East No. 13 seed Montana (25-6): The class of the Big Sky Conference, which might not be saying much. The conference was down this year – with only one NCAA qualifier – but they did go 19-1 and won the regular-season title and the tournament title. The Grizzlies have lost just twice since Dec. 15. Unfortunately, they open things up with No. 4 seed Syracuse. Prediction: Opening loss.
East No. 15 seed Pacific (22-12): The Tigers have won seven in a row and were the surprisingly winner of the Big West tournament, earning their bid. But they played just one ranked team, Gonzaga, and lost, 85-67. That’s not enough to prepare them for No. 2 seed Miami. Prediction: Opening loss.
South’s No. 6 seed UCLA (25-9): The Bruins not only lost the Pac-12 tournament to Oregon but also freshman forward Jordan Adams, the team’s second leading scorer. He broke a bone in his foot on the final play of their semifinal win over Arizona. Guard Larry Drew II, 11th in the country in assists, will need to keep his team sharp if it hopes to beat Minnesota (then No. 3 seed Florida). Prediction: Round of 32.
South No. 7 seed San Diego State (22-10): The Aztecs were 4-5 over their last nine games and lost two of their last three. So this selection was a gift, despite a seventh seed. They open with a under-preforming Oklahoma team then face off against No. 2 seed Georgetown. Prediction: Opening loss.
Midwest No. 8 seed Colorado State (25-8): The MWC runnerup during the regular season, the Rams lost to UNLV in the tournament semifinals. They got perhaps the toughest opening two games, a rugged Missouri team to start then they play the No. 1 seed Louisville, a team some have predicted to win the Tournament. Prediction: Opening loss.
Midwest No. 11 seed St. Mary’s (27-6): The Gaels deserve better than a play-in game. That’s their entry into the Tournament as they play Middle Tennessee in Dayton on Tuesday. St. Mary’s have lost only three times since Dec. 23 – all to Gonzaga. Prediction: Second-round loss.
Midwest No. 12 seed Oregon (26-8): No respect for the Pac-12 and, in particular, the Ducks. They won the Pac-12 tournament but managed just a 12th seed. Arizona and UCLA each got sixth seeds. The Ducks lost their last two regular-season games, which didn’t help their credentials. They also were 5-4 on road in conference play. Prediction: Sweet 16
Midwest No. 13 seed New Mexico State 24-10: The third-place team in the WAC during the regular season, the Aggies swept through the WAC tournament to win the bid. Their opening game is No. 4 seed St. Louis. Prediction: Opening loss.